Converting to the Light
"Crusader" Plot Summary:
A rider on a horse is stopped by men on a hill who tell her that warriors are killing their men. The warriors are Xena and Gabrielle, who are thoroughly trounced by the woman. She has a chance to stab Gabrielle but suddenly stops, kneels, and cries out for forgiveness. She apologizes and tells them that she can see they're on a quest, fighting the forces of darkness as she does.
The woman is Nejara, a crusader who hears messages from the Djinn, which she describes as voices of the light who speak in her head. The Djinn tell her that Xena and Gabrielle are forces for the light like herself and her warriors, who are in Phoenicia to help stop the slave trader Marat. Nejara tells them of her plans to build a hospice for the infirm and asks them to join her in her fight against the slavers. Gabrielle is very taken with the woman, but Xena looks skeptical. Nejara says she wants to earn Xena's trust, offering the warrior princess her sword and telling Xena to check the village before they attack. Xena does, and finds that all is as Nejara said: the villagers have been captured as slaves. She summons Nejara and her men; all fight together against Marat's soldiers, and win. In the process, Nejara saves Gabrielle's life.
After the battle, Nejara preaches to the defeated soldiers, asking them to turn to the light and become her followers. Gabrielle is entranced, but Xena goes off by herself, remembering the vision of her own and Gabrielle's crucifixion given her by Alti. Nejara, who has the same short haircut as Gabrielle in that vision, approaches and tells Xena that the Djinn have shared the vision with her; she asks Xena whether she has warned Gabrielle, and sympathizes with the other woman's burden.
As they travel to the next village in search of Marat and his slavers, Nejara invites Gabrielle to walk along a lake with her and talks to the bard about her joy in the light. Xena refuses to come along but follows from a distance, looking miserable as Gabrielle tells the priestess that she's not sure Xena's path should be her own, because all the violence distresses her. Nejara says that Gabrielle is fighting for the light and admits that she has killed in the name of the greater good, but suggests to Gabrielle that perhaps she must make a committment to the light. That evening as they make plans to take on the slavers, Xena says that she will go after Marat alone while the others free the village from his men. Xena asks Nejara to set up her hospice there, because she isn't coming back for Gabrielle and wants her friend to have the life she wants with Nejara; she says she always seems to hurt Gabrielle, and wants to change her dark vision of the future. In the early morning, she whispers goodbye to the sleeping Gabrielle and leaves.
After Nejara and her men free the slaves, she tells them of her plans to open a hospice and again offers to convert all the slavers. Gabrielle asks to be initiated into the light, and a ceremony is held with Nejara's followers, who sing and embrace. Meanwhile Xena finds Marat, who assumes she must be Nejara and begs her to kill him on the spot because he has heard how she executes all captives who won't accept the gospel according to Nejara. Xena races back to the village to battle Nejara, who nearly kills the warrior princess, but Gabrielle - who has heard Xena's accusations and Nejara's admission that she kills "bad men" - throws herself on Xena's unconscious form and tells Nejara that she will have to kill them both. She says that she wants to move away from Xena's violent ways, but she could never stay with Xena's murderer. Nejara spares Xena, leaving her to wake on the floor with one less tooth.
Gabrielle tells Nejara that she's misguided to kill men without a fair trial, but Nejara assures her that they go to the light when they die, so it's all for the best anyway. Declaring that Nejara has the same weakness as she herself does - Gabrielle - Xena pursues the crusader and finds her friend, who agrees to help her stop Nejara. When the other woman enters, Gabrielle appears to be suspended above a gorge, hanging from a burning rope, but she's really standing on a hidden platform. Gabrielle screams to Najara that Xena has snapped, and Xena agrees: "If I can't have her, no one will. You might miss her if she goes to the light, huh?" The two warriors fight; Nejara nearly falls into the gorge, but Gabrielle asks Xena to spare her. The two turn Nejara over to the local authorities, as Gabrielle told Nejara that Xena would do.
Xena asks the imprisoned Nejara whether she told Gabrielle about Xena's vision; Najara says no, that would have hurt Gabrielle, "and I don't ever want to do that. That's your job." Nejara adds that the slavers will probably bribe the local authorities and go free, insisting that her forced conversions and executions are a more fair system of justice for evildoers. While Gabrielle leaves with Xena, Nejara forgives her.
This was a fabulous episode, though I'd think that after her experience with Dahok, Gabrielle would be a little more skeptical of people who run off at the mouth about working for the light; as Xena says, she was silly to trust someone who talks about doing good all the time. Nejara is a fascinating religious fanatic: reminds me both of the medieval Christian crusaders she's based on and their contemporary equivalents - the type who preach Jesus' love and forgiveness and then hold up "Die Homosexuals" placards at Matthew Shephard's funeral. The fact that she was very attractive and just as strong as Xena made her extremely compelling; the only reason I was suspicious of her is the degree to which she came between Xena and Gabrielle. On this show, that doesn't usually last long, and it's generally not forgiven.
It was interesting to hear how angst-ridden Gabrielle continues to be about the way of life she's shared with Xena for years now. Again, after what Dahok did to her in her innocence, I'm puzzled about why fighting for what's right still upsets her so much; Nejara is obviously an extreme case, but I thought it was interesting that the first battle with the slavers was unusually graphic, which horrible sounds as the swords entered the bodies of the men. (It's odd that there are so many female warrior leaders in ancient Greece, yet so few women among the common soldiers.) Xena's decision to leave Gabrielle in Nejara's care was moving in that it was so obviously painful for her, but I wonder whether it was really selfless or even kind not to give Gabrielle a choice. There have been moments when Gabrielle certainly would choose dying with Xena over living without her; I'm not sure whether she's there right now, but it should be her decision. She's questing, but she's not a child.
I wonder what it means that Gabrielle has Nejara's haircut in the crucifixion in the future? When I first saw that scene here, I thought I'd misunderstood it when Alti gave Xena the vision, and that it was in fact Nejara rather than Gabrielle dying beside her; only when Gabrielle said, "I love you, Xena," did I remember what happened in "Adventures in the Sin Trade." It's nice that both women are willing to part in order to save one another's lives, but they also seem to be doing so rashly.
Kathryn Morris was superb as Nejara. I really hope we see her again.